What is the Epstein-Barr Virus?

The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is one of the most common viruses in humans and is most commonly associated with infectious mononucleosis or glandular fever. It has also been linked to the development of several cancers including Hodgkin's lymphoma, nasopharyngeal carcinoma and Burkitt's lymphoma.

Virus class and taxonomy

EBV is a virus of the herpes family and, specifically, the genus lymphocryptovirus. EBV is otherwise known of as human herpesvirus 4 (HHV-4).


EBV is composed of double-stranded DNA of about 172 kilobase pairs in length and containing around 85 genes. This is surrounded by a nucleocapsid made up of 162 capsomeres. The nucleocapsid is contained in an outer protein covering that is surrounded by the viral envelope. The viral envelope is covered in glycoproteins that are essential in enabling the virus to infect host cells.


The EBV virus is caught by people who are not immune to the virus when they come into contact with EBV- infected saliva. The virus can therefore be transmitted through close contact with infected individuals while kissing or even through sharing drinks or toothbrushes, for example. EBV then infects the pharyngeal cells lining the surfaces of the throat, mouth and nose.

The infection is usually picked up during childhood but may not be caught until adolescence, in which case it usually causes glandular fever.

The virus's main target is the B lymphocyte and it spreads throughout the lymphatic system causing swelling of the lymph nodes and lymph glands. The virus may reach the spleen, which may become inflamed and swollen. This happens in about half of glandular fever cases.

People who have suppressed immunity, for example those with HIV infection or those taking steroids or chemotherapeutic agents are at increased risk of infection with EBV.

Further Reading

Last Updated: Feb 26, 2019

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Mandal, Ananya. (2019, February 26). What is the Epstein-Barr Virus?. News-Medical. Retrieved on July 07, 2022 from https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-the-Epstein-Barr-Virus.aspx.

  • MLA

    Mandal, Ananya. "What is the Epstein-Barr Virus?". News-Medical. 07 July 2022. <https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-the-Epstein-Barr-Virus.aspx>.

  • Chicago

    Mandal, Ananya. "What is the Epstein-Barr Virus?". News-Medical. https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-the-Epstein-Barr-Virus.aspx. (accessed July 07, 2022).

  • Harvard

    Mandal, Ananya. 2019. What is the Epstein-Barr Virus?. News-Medical, viewed 07 July 2022, https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-the-Epstein-Barr-Virus.aspx.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
Post a new comment
You might also like...
The effectiveness of non-pharmacological treatments for post-viral syndromes and long COVID